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What Is Culture Shock?

Culture shock refers to the impact of moving from a familiar culture to one that is unfamiliar. This impact includes the anxiety and feelings (such as surprise, disorientation, uncertainty, and confusion) felt when a person must adapt to a different and unknown cultural or social environment. It might include the shock of a new environment, meeting new people, eating new food, or adapting to a foreign language, as well as the shock of being separated from the important people in your life: such as family, friends, colleagues, and teachers.

Culture shock generally comes in four stages. These stages are:

Step 1: The Honeymoon Stage

During this stage, everything is new and interesting. You may experience a feeling of euphoria and be in awe of all the differences you see and experience. You feel excited and stimulated, and you still feel close to everything familiar back home. During this stage, you generally focus on the similarities between you home country and your host country, but you appreciate the differences as well.

Step 2: The Distress Stage

Once the honeymoon stage wears off, you may suddenly start getting frustrated or annoyed by your new country, specifically the customs and values. The things you're experiencing no longer feel new; in fact, it's starting to feel like the strangeness of a new culture is preventing you from experiencing things. You may feel hostility toward the way things are done here, and you may think that they should be done in a different way. You start to idealize life “back home,” and may feel that your current culture, language, and food are inferior to what you're used to. You feel confused and alone, and may realize that the familiar support systems of home are no longer easily accessible to you. Don't worry; this is perfectly normal.

Step 3 - The Orientation Stage

The Orientation Stage is the first stage in acceptance. During this stage, you begin to understand why things are done in a certain way. You start to respect the culture and traditions, whether you consider them to be good or bad. You begin to feel more comfortable in your new environment, and you begin to have a more positive outlook. You feel more confident and better prepared to cope with any problems that might arise. Remember that culture shock is not a perfectly linear experience; you may return to the Distress Stage multiple times until you hit…

Step 4 - The Adaptation Stage

During this stage, your attitude changes and you are able to function in both cultures. You have embraced the new culture and are able to see it in a new, yet realistic, light. In this stage you are typically well-oriented to your new life, and have developed your own habits and routines. You feel comfortable, confident, and capable of making decisions. You no longer feel alone and isolated; instead, you start to feel at home.

It's important to realize that you will need time to get use to your new home, and that this is a normal part of adjustment. The physical and psychological impact varies person to person, so pay close attention to your overall wellbeing, particularly in the first few months that you are in the USA.